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Suspect, 7 others, arrested in fatal shooting of California police officer

The arrest of 32-year-old Gustavo Perez Arriaga has sparked new debate about California’s sanctuary state law.

Officials announced Dec. 28 that an undocumented immigrant wanted in the shooting death of a California police officer was captured and taken into custody. (Video: Reuters)

The arrest Friday of a man in the shooting death of a California police officer has renewed criticism of sanctuary laws, with a local sheriff suggesting that the state's efforts to protect undocumented immigrants could have contributed to the killing.

Gustavo Perez Arriaga, a 32-year-old undocumented immigrant, was charged with homicide in connection with the shooting death of 33-year-old Newman police officer Ronil Singh, according to law enforcement.

Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson assailed sanctuary laws that limit state and local governments' cooperation with federal immigration agents, but he did not detail how those rules applied to Perez’s case or how they would have prevented Singh’s death.

He said Perez Arriaga publicized his gang affiliation and had been arrested twice for driving under the influence, but did not provide additional details about those arrests.

“Law enforcement was prohibited because of sanctuary laws, and that led to the encounter with Officer Singh,” Christianson said. “I’m suggesting that the outcome could have been different if law enforcement wasn’t restricted, prohibited or had their hands tied because of political interference.”

California’s sanctuary laws contain exemptions for serious criminals, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement should receive notification of any arrest, as well as fingerprints if an individual is booked and fingerprinted. Without more details, it is unclear how sanctuary rules would have applied in Perez Arriaga’s case.

ICE did not immediately respond to an email request Saturday for information on Perez Arriaga.

Singh, a native of Fiji who joined the Newman police department in 2011, was killed after he stopped Perez Arriaga in Newman early Wednesday morning on suspicion of drunken driving. The officer called out “shots fired” over the radio, police say, and was found at the scene with gunshot wounds. Singh was pronounced dead at a hospital, sparking a multiagency manhunt for his killer.

“Ronil Singh was my older brother. Yes, he’s not coming back, but there’s a lot of people out there that misses him,” Singh’s brother, Reggie, said during a Friday news conference. He added of the suspect’s arrest, “I was waiting for this to happen. . . . Thank you for working day and night to make this happen.”

Christianson said Perez Arriaga had illegally entered the United States at the Arizona border and was trying to flee to his home country, Mexico, when he was apprehended at a residence in Bakersfield, Calif.

In addition to Perez Arriaga’s arrest, Christianson said that Perez Arriaga’s brother, 25-year-old Adrian Virgen, and a co-worker, 27-year-old Erik Razo Quiroz, were arrested Thursday for allegedly helping Perez Arriaga escape after Singh was shot. Virgen and Quiroz are also in the country illegally, Christianson said.

Also arrested on charges of aiding and abetting were Bernabe Madrigal Castaneda, 59, Erasmo Villegas, 36, and Maria Luisa Moreno, 57, the Kern County Sheriff’s Office said. They were arrested inside the residence where Perez Arriaga was apprehended.

On Friday afternoon, the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department said it had arrested two more people for allegedly aiding Perez Arriaga in his attempt to escape: his girlfriend, 30-year-old Ana Leyde Cervantes, and another of his brothers, 34-year-old Conrado Virgen Mendoza.

“Anyone who aids and helps this criminal was going to go to jail,” Christianson said.

Christianson’s criticism of sanctuary laws echoes sentiments often leveled by President Trump, who has repeatedly clashed with California over the enforcement of immigration rules. On Thursday, before the arrest was announced, Trump tweeted about the case.

In the past, the president has invoked the case of Kate Steinle to justify his attempts to withhold federal assistance to sanctuary cities. An undocumented immigrant was acquitted in Steinle’s death.

While Trump has suggested that sanctuary cities “breed crime,” there’s little research on the connection.

“Why are we providing sanctuary for criminals, gang members?” Christianson said. “It’s a conversation we need to have.”